To Keep and Bear Arms: An Individual or Collective Right?

Lesson Duration

By The McCormick Foundation

An enduring debate exists over whether the Second Amendment’s reference to a “well regulated Militia” guarantees an individual or a collective right. This lesson asks students to examine landmark Supreme Court decisions and opposing interpretations of the amendment and the develop their own reasoned positions.
Each student begins by completing a concepts formation sheet which is then discussed with the whole class. This serves to facilitate the balance of the lesson. Next, the class is divided into study groups of three for a jigsaw activity in which students examine the majority opinion in U.S. v. Miller (1939), as well as the majority and dissenting opinions in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008). Students share individual findings with their study group, and everyone completes a graphic organizer to better evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each opinion. As a culminating activity, students are to explore the current gun laws in a given state or the nation as a whole. You may decide to assign the entire class to a single state (perhaps their own) or allow them to choose one on their own. Students should draft a 1.5-2 page position paper that details existing state gun laws, assesses how they will be impacted by the Heller decision and the policy changes, if any, they recommend as a result.

Lesson: To Keep and Bear Arms: An Individual or Collective Right?


The McCormick Foundation's Civics Program